05 December, 2011

Bali 2011

It’s 5.45am early dawn high up in the central mountains of Bali and Kimie and I are off to climb an active volcano – Mt Batur.

The little red Yamaha Mio scooter is buzzing away at a heady 60kmh as we ride the empty roads through Penelokan, a mountain village with excellent views of the volcano and eponymous lake.

Penelokan is quiet at this hour, not even the dogs are stirring – or are they?

Over there on our right a mangy local hound drowsily picks itself up, shakes off the sleep and proceeds to slowly meander across the road. I slow down just to be sure, but expect that like most of the local mutts it will plonk itself down again a few steps later – most likely in the middle of the road and oblivious to passing traffic….

….. but no, he keeps coming so I slow further – down to around 30kmh now – when Fido decides to make an almighty dash to the other side and directly in our path. I hit the brakes hard but is too late and I plan for the inevitable collision and hope it is not going to be too painful – as usual, we are dressed like the natives and our shorts, teeshirt and thin rain poncho are guaranteed to shred themselves on the coarse bitumen along with the removal of several epidermal layers.

With a thud the front tyre hits Fido amidships and with a series of yelps he cartwheels into the air. My focus though is not on him, but on keeping the Mio upright. Amazingly the little Mio tracks true and wobbles to an almost stop. I ask Kimie if she is Ok, she replies YES and without stopping we continue on our way to our 6am rendezvous with the guide who will take us up the volcano. I subsequently check the Mio and it doesn’t even have a scratch – this is one of the benefits of a small bike, we hit the canine from below, rather than from above and didn’t end up bouncing over it.

Apart from this incident, the rest of our time riding in Bali was most enjoyable. We picked up the little Mio in Kuta on the morning after our arrival, and for the princely sum of $4 per day we immediately sped off for the 120km ride to Lovina on the northern coast of Bali where we planned to spend our holiday relaxing by the beach and enjoying the sights and sounds in the immediate area.

We had packed light with only two carry-on bags as our sole luggage and this allowed us to carry everything on the Mio without difficulty. With one bag upright between my legs in the step through area, and the other balanced on my thighs, the Mio was easily manoeuvrable through traffic. Once we had wended our way through the stop-go chaos around Denpasar we left the traffic behind as we started the long ascent along quiet country roads bordered by rice padis up to the cool mountain air of Bedugul before wending our way back down to the steamy coast and relative traffic congestion of Singaraja. On reaching the coast it was a quick 10km westward ride to the peaceful relaxed beach resort at Lovina.

We also enjoyed quite a few day trips along the coast and up into the hills, following 2 lane bitumen roads that slowly petered into single lane then gravel and then 1.5m wide dirt tracks whilst simultaneously getting steeper and steeper to the point where first Kimie had to hop off and walk and eventually I had to climb off and run alongside the asthmatic Mio as it struggled up the precipitous slopes and into the ever thinner air.

Riding in Bali itself is most unlike the Western experience and one has to contend with not only animals but also the regular array of vehicles - oncoming vehicles overtaking (requiring you to run off the road or stop), motorbikes in the millions zipping past you in all directions, and pedestrians oblivious to the traffic. Throw in the poor quality, potholed and bumpy roads and you have a true adventure. Despite all this, however, Kimie felt more comfortable on the little Mio than she did riding as pillion in Australia – , possibly due to the much lower traffic speeds. Most of the time she was more than happy to sit back and relax, without holding on to me or the bike, and make video recordings holding the camera as we rode along.

Overall, a very enjoyable experience for us and one we wish to repeat again soon – one tip though, avoid southern Bali! Anywhere south of Denpasar is simply traffic jam central and no fun riding at all.

Mt Terrible

Take 1.
The Mt Terrible track is an off road adventure I first heard about from a group of 4WDers around 15 years ago. I had always planned to ride up there one day but had simply forgotten about it as a possible ride venue.

Earlier this year I decided to look at Google maps and find out exactly where this terrible mountain was and at that point I decided it really couldn’t be that hard to get to after all.

My first attempt was on a Friday (7th October) and given the unknown road conditions I elected to take the Postie Bike. The total round trip was around 350knm but this was slow going on a Postie bike that had a cruising speed of around 60kmh.

To get there I followed the Maroondah Highway out through Lilydale and Healesville then through the Black Spur, turning off the highway at Narbethong to Marysville and finally hitting the dirt just past Cambarville at the Warby-Eildon (Big River) road turnoff.

This was more like as the postie came into its own on the gravel. From looking at Google maps I knew there was a turnoff along this road on my right which would take me up to the top of Mt Terrible - unfortunately what I hadn’t counted on was the lack of signposting (or more correctly meaningful signposting), as the signs simply displayed the name of the track BUT not where they lead to.

As I passed more and more turnoffs the road became more and more a track till eventually it became simply 2 wheel tracks amongst the undergrowth and the inclines became more precipitous.

Finally I arrived at Enoch’s Point by which time I realised I had missed the turnoffs so I continued along the Big River road eventually hitting the bitumen again at the Eildon – Jamieson road turnoff.

From here it was a fast (for a postie) windy run to Eildon itself where I rode across the weir wall looking at the water which was full for the first time in over 20 years. I didn’t realise at the time, but 3 days later the authorities opened the sluice gates on the wall and released water over the top – something which was sufficiently momentous for it to feature on page 1 of our local Melbourne newspapers.

From here the 150km ride back home was straightforward except for having to ride with a missing right hand footpeg rubber – something which I had lost on the gravel, probably as a result of constant vibrations from the gravel corrugations.

Take 2.
Approx 6 weeks later (22nd November ) and it was time to revisit Mt Teriible but this time there were going to be two major changes. Firstly in order to make better time on the bitumen I was going to be riding B1, and secondly, I was going to do the trip in reverse to ensure I found the right track to the top of Mt Terrible.

Following the Eildon-Jamieson road I knew the Mt Terrible turnoff was approx 700m past the Big River Rd intersection, and I found the track without too much difficulty but once again it was unsignposted so I had to trust I was heading in the right direction. As I ascended, the track became progressively steeper and rougher with sharp rocks on the inclines which whilst providing grip for 4WDs, only made B1 bounce around and lose traction whilst simultaneously making it hard to retain directional control.

There were also lots of intersecting tracks and it was difficult to know whether you should have taken a turnoff, but I finally came across a signpost pointing straight ahead to Mt Terrible just at the point where I felt sure I should turn back. I continued on only to find around 800m later I had reached the top hut and the lookout tower – now I know why it is so easy to get lost in this area.

Sidenote: I did have my Garmin GPS and mobile phone GPS with me but the actual tracks and the GPS were never 100% in alignment.

After a brief rest and walk over to the lookout tower, and inspection of the hut, I decided to continue South where I expected to eventually meet up with the Big River / Warby-Eildon Road again. The first part of the track consisted of a fairly steep downhill section on slippery terrain and this was quite a challenge as B1 freewheels downhill at anything below 24km/h. I had good reason to thank B1’s left hand operated brake lever as this allowed me to use both brakes whilst putting my feet down (when needed) and also gave me much finer braking control (compared to a foot operated brake lever) such that I never lost control even on the steepest sections.

The road continued up and down ever more steeper and rougher tracks for another 20kmh until I looked down and realised B1’s engine was overheating - I had jammed the radiator fan against the radiator when I had bashed over some of the bigger rocks.

I stopped for 15 minutes to let everything cool down and then switched the motor off on the downhill sections to prevent a recurrence.

Half an hour later I reached the main gravel road and found the track I had ridden down was called the Hope Track. From here the road surface progressively improved and I saw my first vehicle for the day since venturing off-road and ¾ hour on I hit the Reefton Spur Road. From here B1 was in its element and we enjoyed the curving road – albeit a little damp in places – down to Reefton and Warburton.

From here on it was straight home, arriving tired but satisfied, after a pleasingly long day in the saddle and fulfilment of another riding goal.

11 August, 2011

Cape York and beyond...

The day had started out cool and dry, but now as late afternoon approached the heavens had opened and water was teeming down. I stopped at Rolleston to replenish my fuel and under the service station awning I pulled on my yellow waterproofs. I knew they would keep my body dry but despite having applied waterproof wax to my gloves 2 days earlier I also knew there was nothing that would keep my hands dry once the deluge reached such torrential proportions. A quick check with the local constabulary (who was also sheltering from the downpour) confirmed I had no option but to press on through the rain as the alternative route led to the coast at Gladstone, and not North.

The road was a smooth one, however, and the next section to Springsure was only 71kms. I had only travelled 750kms today so I needed to get a lot more mileage under my belt if I was to come close to yesterday's tally of 1,200km.

The rain was coming down heavy now with streams of it running across the road and pooling in the wheel tracks left by 4 wheeled vehicles. However, the Burgie was revelling in the conditions, running smoothly on tyres that were new when I left Melbourne, whilst my screen extension was protecting my body from the worst that mother nature could through at it. The road gently undulated up and down hills as it simultaneously curved left and right.

As I crested the blind left hand uphill curve I gently counter-steered to the right to allow the Burgie to follow the curve downhill.

Instead of turning, however, time slowed down as the wheels slid out to the right – I was aquaplaning and my counter-steer had caused me to lose whatever little traction I had had! In the milliseconds available I groaned to myself “damn!”, before surveying the scene – coming towards me, maybe 20 metres away, was a Camry and I wondered whether I would do a low-side slide directly into its path, low-slide more quickly across the road so that I was off the road before it reached me, or whether the Burgie would high-side me through the Camry’s windscreen…………

... and thus I approached the end of Day 2 of what was to be a 9,200km 21 day journey from Melbourne to the Northern and Eastern most extremities of Australia .

Day 1 – Bastille Day (14 July), Melbourne to Walgett.
The ride had commenced the previous day at 6am when I got an early start from the threatening rain on a bitterly cold Melbourne morning. I turned up the heat on my Gerbing jacket and gloves to ensure I stayed toasty for the 12+ hours of riding ahead. With the strains of La Marsellaise ringing in my helmet I threaded the Burgie North through the Melbourne suburbs and was immediately surprised how busy the roads were at that time of day – being a humble office-worker I don’t often get to appreciate the early starts that tradespeople have to enjoy on a daily basis.

Once clear of Melbourne though, and as the day began to break it, was a smooth run under clear blue skies up the Hume until just South of the border where fog descended and seemed like it wanted to hang around all day. This was not a problem on a 4 lane highway but shortly after Albury I left the Hume to travel cross-country along the Olympic Way to Wagga Wagga and West Wyalong. At Gerogery the mist descended further, and light rain fell, as both visibility and road speed dropped markedly. This section of road was a slow one and it was not till I reached West Wyalong that conditions improved. It was, however, uneventful and stayed that way as I upped my speeds along the Newell as far as Gilgandra before turning North up the Castlereagh for the final 200km stretch to Walgett where I arrived under cover of darkness, and set my tent under the cover of the barbeque shelter of the public campground south of town.

Day 2 – 15 July, Walgett to Emerald.
The morning dawned bright and early to clear skies and the promise of a great riding day. My tent was quickly packed and I hit the road for the 300km section of road to St George – the first major town across the border in Queensland - was fast and smooth – interrupted only by the suicidal tendencies of the local bird population. Large flocks of emus were sensible enough to stay off the road but flocks of magpie larks (at least that's what I think they were) insisted on sitting in the middle of the road and then flying off at the last minute as I passed.

Four of them hit my fairing at high speed that morning – each a separate incident.

After St George I left the flat plains and the roads became slightly more interesting as I approached Roma, and then at Injune I entered the Carnarvon National Park and the curves (and the fun) began. It was very enjoyable riding until the turnoff to Carnarvon gorge when the road became damp and light rain began to fall. Just as I reached Rolleston the deluge began and also where our story began…

As I crested the blind left hand uphill curve I gently counter-steered to the right to allow the Burgie to follow the curve downhill.

Instead of turning, however, timed slowed down as the wheels slid out to the right – I was aquaplaning and my counter- steer had caused me to lose whatever little traction I had had. In the milliseconds available I groaned to myself “damn!” before surveying the scene – coming towards me was a Camry and I wondered whether I would do a low-side slide directly into its path, low-slide more quickly across the road so that I was off the road before it reached me, or whether the Burgie would high-side me through the Camry’s windscreen…………

I realised that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the outcome but I at least I knew the alternatives and waited whilst the Burgie decided what my fate would be.

As the Burgie slid over to 40 degrees from the vertical something surprising happened. First I felt (and thought I heard) the scrabbling of the rear wheel as it slid to the right out of the wheel track and onto a firm surface, this was followed milliseconds later by the front wheel performing the same feat.

I now had control of the Burgie again even though I was now in the centre of the road with the Camry only metres away. The Camry driver flashed their headlights clearly astonished at why this crazy motorcyclist was trying to steal their lane, whilst I gently eased the Burgie to the left and back into my own lane for the descent down the crest.

Usually after such pucker moments I can taste the adrenalin in my mouth and I need to pull over to relax, however, given the wet conditions I simply pressed on to Emerald – the next major town- where I looked for the cheapest motel ($60 and next to the railway station) so I could dry myself and my riding gear for the following day’s ride to Cairns.

Day 3 – 16 July, Emerald to Cairns
Day 3 was dry as I fueled up for the final leg to Cairns, which was the starting point for the Cape York "adventure section" of my journey. On the horizon though I could see grey clouds hanging and I knew I would be lucky to not have another wet day ahead of me.

The route was straight forward - continue inland to Charters Towers before heading East to Townsville then North up the coast to Cairns. Within half an hour of leaving Emerald I was pulled over to the side of the road donning my wet weather gear again and worried about the lightning in the sky - on such flat treeles land lightning is a concern as a motorcycle is the tallest object and the natural anode for any errant cathodic thunderbolt.

It had been almost 30 years since I had last visited Charters Towers and it was a pleasure to see it once again. As I aproached the town the weather also improved and I was basking in warm sunshine by the time I stopped for fuel and an early lunch.

From Charters Towers the road improved yet again as it followed the railway and started to climb up and down hills towards the coast.

The final stretch odf road into, and through Townsville, was extremely slow due to long delays from roadworks. I inadvertently upset a lot of car drivers by lane splitting to the front of the queue - something which is accepted by motorists in Victoria - and received tirades of abuse from quite a few vehicles.

North of Townsville I passed the cyclone hit areas North of Cardwell, still showing signs of Yasi's devastation. The rain joined me again for the final very slow 300km ride to Cairns - slow due to rain and continuous roadworks to repair the cyclone damage.

Just as the sun was setting I reached Cairns, and decided that due to the very high possibility of rain I would sleep indoors (in a local backpackers) again tonight, the Burgie odometer having clocked up a further 1,000kms that day.

Day 4 – 17 July, Cairns to Bloomfield
Day 4 started bright and rosy. After leaving the "castle backpackers" I headed North along one of my favourite stretches of road - the coast road to Port Douglas and Mossman. On this occasion I bypassed Mossman Gorge and headed directly to the Daintree ferry and Cape Tribulation. After a short wait I was able to cross the river but travel was slow as the FWDs meandered up the road to Cpae Trib. Before long it became apparent that the slowness was caused by a one way section of road where the by now ubiquitous queensland road works were taking place. Once again, as soon as the traffic stopped I proceeded to lane split past the other vehicles only to meet by howls of abuse for not waiting my turn. I ignored these and reached the front of the queue and was able to enjoy an open stretch of road ahead of following vehicles.

Shortly after reaching the Cape the road turned to gravel and I was then on the Bloomfield track itself. A few kilometres later and I reached the first water crossing - and made my first mistake. After having successfully travelled through flood zones in central Australia I assumed the Queensland river crossings would be similar - they weren't, these had uneven rocky bases - and figuring I knew it all I ploughed straight in, feet up on the Burgie's footboards. As soon as I hit the first rock the Burgie slid over on to its left side before I had chance to put my feet down and digested a fair amount of liquid before I had sense to hit the kill switch. Fortunately a couple of fellow travellers came to my rescue and pushed me out but when I hit the starter button it was obvious I had hydrolocked the motor - how embarrassing A couple of young "spectators" helped me push the Burgie out of the river and up onto the bank so I could commence work. Removing the plugs and hitting the starter button revealed there was a fair amount of water in the air filter and intake tract and eventually the Burgie started (albeit with a fair amount of coughing and spluttering) and I was off on my way North again. The Bloomfield track, however, is very steep in sections and each time I reached an uphill section the Burgie ran out of puff and it was clear a full cure was still required.

I stopped the bike to check out the problem and it would not start again, pulling the airfilter drain plug a torrent of milky water poured out and the Burgie started up again. This had been the problem on the uphill sections - the water in the filter was running into the intake tract as soon as I reached a decent angle of ascent - and B1 was running a LOT better now.. A few more river crossings, and up and down hill, and eventually I reached the dry aboriginal settlement of Wujal Wujal, a fascinating spot, and shortly thereafter Bloomfield itself - a one shop town - where I camped for the night and purchased more oil to give the Burgie a full oil change. This was an interesting night, camped alongside the Bloomfield river, watching the crocs eyes glowing on the river bank, and lighting a fire to keep nature away (didn't work real well against the brumby which invaded my camp at 4am) and dry out my wet boots and pants.

Day 5 – 18 July, Bloomfield to Laura.
The next morning was a slow start after draining the oil. As it turned out, it really wasn't necessary as the milky water in the air-filter was only from the oil mist from the PCV - no water had entered the motor itself.I wanted to make sure everything was fine though as I knew once I got North of Cooktown I would have only limited and intermittent access to repair facilities. Another 50km or so of good graded dirt tracks and I was back onto the bitumen again for the run past the Lions Den and then Black Mountain into Cooktown proper. Cooktown smelt of formic acid (ants) and frankly speaking, was a little disappointing. I purchased a few more provisions, had lunch then started on the journey proper to HopeVale along the last of the bitumen before hitting Battle Camp Rd, which would take me west to Laura on the Peninsula Development Road. The first major river crossing on Battle Camp Road was Isabella Falls and I had heard it could be tricky. So given yesterday's embarrassing experience on the Bloomfield I thought it best to be cautious, strip down to my shorts and bare feet, and walk the crossing first. As it turned out, apart from a little bit of a slippery bottom surface, and relatively fast flowing water, the crossing was pretty smooth and not particularly deep. Figuring I may need to put my feet down I left my boots off and hung them from the seat on bungie cords before starting the crossing. As it was, the crossing was a breeze, with only a relatively small mid-river bump to contend with. I stopped the Burgie on the other side and went to put my boots on .... except they weren't there?? it turned out they had bumped loose and as I peered 10 metres down the falls I realised they were lost to the world (* or so I thought, as it turned out someone else found them at the bottom of the falls a few days later and I believe they are now hanging from a tree above the falls). I then had no option but to wear my lightweight canvas shoes for the rest of the ride - in hindsight, not a good move as they offered very little in the way of protection for my ankles. As I proceeded along Battlecamp road to Old Laura the road became progressively more difficult with many sections of corrugations, ruts and soft sand in addition to half a dozen more water crossings. Along the way i was passed by Hamish and his team of riders (2 KTMs, a Kawasaki KX450 and Yamaha WR250) who pulled over to try and work out what a Burgman was doing outside of its usual city habitat, and I agreed to meet again them in Laura that night. Before reaching Laura (and the Peninsula Development Road or PDR) though I had to cross the Laura River and vist the Old Laura homestead. It was a rather nice camping area and I vacillated whether to stay but decided to stick with my original plan and press on the further 10km, cross the brige into Laura and spend the night at the Quinkan (local indigenous name for Laura) campground.

Day 6 – 19 July, Laura to Moreton Telegraph Station.
One of the beauties of the desert, and camping on the road, is that you go to bed early, have a relaxing sleep after exhausting yourself physically during the day, and wake early to the sound of birdcalls - in this case wheeling cockatoos and galahs. I rode over the fuel stop to find not only Hamish and his team preparing for the ride North, but a small group of postie riders heading south on their return journey from the Tip.

The trip to the Cape is not a challenge when it comes to fuel as the longest distance between fuel stops is only 200km - mind you riding in soft sand causes fuel consumption to rise dramatically so on the OTL, in particular, 200km was only just close enough.

The PDR itself was an interesting road; it is the regular freight and service access road to Weipa and as a result it carries a lot of road train traffic, as well as fuel tankers. On top of that you have all the tourist traffic in 4WDs, beaten up 2WDs and a sprinkling of bikes (powered and unpowered).

The road surface varies from waer crossings (a dozen or so easy ones) deep loose sand, heavy corrugations and loose rock to hard packed earth (my favourite offroad surface), and every 30km or so, a 5km section of bitumen for overtaking slow vehicles. Corresponding my speed varied between 20km/h on the worst sections to 120km/h on the good ones.

My intention today had been to head to Weipa,however, after leaving the aboriginal settlement of Coen the road deteriorated further and the corrugations were giving B1's frame a real bashing, so when I reached the Telegraph Track turnoff I elected to take that instead and rolled into Moreton Telegraph Station after dark with my first question being "do you have a welder" - sadly, they didn't.

Day 7 – 20 July, Moreton to Seisia
Perched high above the banks of the Wenlock river, Moreton Station is a real oasis, the campsite lush and green compared with dustbowl of the Telegraph Track. My day started bright and early as I did a quick check of the state of B1's frame - my rear topbox was drooping (which meant the rear subframe was bending) whilst at the front fairing mounting bracket had snapped and the whole front end was hanging loose - well what are cable ties for I ask? :-)

I rode the 70kms of gravel to Bramwell Turnoff - a good high speed section of dirt road where I coudl travel up to 90km/h in places - and the beginning of the OTL (Old Telegraph Line) - and was advised they also could not do any welding and my only option was to ride 10km off track to Bramwell Station. Much as I was tempted to ride North on the OTL I knew that the condition of B1's frame was such that I shouldn't risk it, so after fuelling up I elected to take the Southern Bypass Loop instead.

In hindsight, this was big mistake. The Southern Bypass soon degenerated into long sections of loose sand and the worst corrugations I can recall having ridden on - at times the juddering was so bad that I could no longer see . On top of this, the sandy sections became longer and deeper and harder to ride in. This was particularly bad on the inside of curves whenever the road followed the contours of the land. I struggled on for around 75kms until I hit one loose and rutted section - as I slowed from 40kmh, to a stop, my vision became a blur and I slewed into the deep sand not knowing what lay ahead. What lay ahead was even looser sand and as I braked harder (albeit very gently given the loose surface) the Burgie lost steering and traction and gently dumped itself on the right hand side, and on top of my unprotected (by a boot) right ankle . My leg twisted and I felt a sharp burning pain as I swung my left leg over the Burgie hump and on to the sand. B1 was fine except for a couple of scratches to the bodywork and a broken indicator lens.

As I picked up B1 and climbed back on board, I thought this was just a simple sprain, but the burning spasm returned and increased in strength - it's never hurt like this before, I thought, but said to myself it will have to wait till I reach a population centre before I can do anything about it.

From this point the road deteriorated further as I rode along in pain - my speed dropped considerably and it was late afternoon by the time I reached the Jardine River ferry and subsequently Bamaga / Seisia.

After this I was obviously not thinking straight as when the road forked I foolishly took advice of the signpost and followed the narrow fork to Bamaga - which was the final section of the OTL - instead of continuing along the bypass road to Injinoo. This 20km section of loose sand was tough going and it took a full hour to reach Bamaga. From Bamaga I continued north to Seisia and took advantage of the opportunity to camp alongside the beach (sadly no swimming due to the possibility of crocs) and enjoy the beautiful sunset as the sun set over the Arafura sea.

Day 8 – 21 July, Seisia to the tip
Thursday dawned bright and sunny - a typical warmish 27 degree day in the northernmost part of Australia. Seisia and Bamaga are torres Strait Islander communities and the locals are quite different to the aboriginal communities further South.

First activity for the day was to book a ferry trip to Thursday Island for the following day (Friday),next up was to find the local mechanic and arrange for him to weld up B1, and then head off to the tip itself. The mechanic told me he was busy that morning and to come back around 3, which was perfect as it gave me plenty of time to to ride/hobble the 30kms to the tip of Australia.

First I had to head back down to Bamaga then take the turn off North again. This road was a contrast. The first 15kms or so was a typical wide heavily corrugated track with 4WDs zooming along and raising clouds of dust. Midway along though, it changed to a single track and entered the rainforest such that I was riding under a low canopy of trees, this latter section was probably the most enjoyable section of road on the Cape and was very pleasant to ride, with a firmish hardpack base and no corrugations - it was also peaceful and tranquil under the canopy, with only a single water crossing to contend with

Shortly after leaving the canopy I reached the carpark/turnaround and it was walking only from this point.

By this point my ankle was swelling up and quite uncomfortable to walk on, so it was more of a "limp to the tip". After the customary look around, and photograph, I dipped my toe in the water and strolled back along the beach.

I rode back to the mechanic in Seisia, and the fun began with me stripping boywork off B1, including most of the front and rear plastic panels. With one mechanic welding the cracked Givi rack mounting plate and beefing up the subframe mounting brackets, the other got to work on the front end. Amazingly, the corrugations had vibrated the complete front fairing bracket loose and snapped the frame bracket - there was no option but to solid weld the fairing brace direct to the frame.

Sadly whilst all this work was going on I forgot all about taking photos of a great bunch of guys at work. Meanwhile a group of older Peugeots (l'aventure de Peugeot) had arrived after driving up from Wilsons Promontory and they were also in need of welding repairs.

Day 9 – 22 July, Thursday Island
Friday morning and I was up bright and early to catch the ferry across to Thursday Island. The ride over took around 1 and a half hours and it was pleasant to smell the salty air, enjoy the heat of the sun on your back sun and the cooling breeze from our speed across the water as we travelled through an archipelago of small islands.

The island itself is very much an islander town, quite different to the aborginal settlements further south, and despite my sore ankle I decided to hike to the top of Green Hill Fort - it wasn't such an effort, even for an almost unidexter, and shortly afterwards I was joined by many of my fellow ferry passengers who had elected to take the tour bus to the top. After exploring the fort I was able to enjoy the views across to neighbouring islands and down onto the town common where the primary school was holding its annual athletics day.

I then hiked back down cross country and into the town itself where sadly there was very little else to do to while away the remaining hours until the ferry made its return journey.

Arriving back in Seisia I decided to use the remaining daylight hours to head back tgo Bamaga and visit some of the old plane wrecks the cape is famous for - a DC3 and Beaufighter are surprisingly intact after close on 60 years resting in the jungle. Returning to the camping ground I was pleasantly surprised to find Hamish and his crew firmly ensconced. We spent the evening chatting about our relative experiences and they gave me some good tips regarding the OTL and my return journey. I now had the confidence to tackle the deeper water crossings with the exception of Nolans Brook, which they had to carry their bikes across.

Day 10 – 23 July, Seisia to Cockatoo Creek
Saturday dawned brightly and I was off early heading south to Injinoo and New Mappoon before reaching the Jardine ferry.

I refueled at Jardine and travelled approx 40km further south on the Bypass road until the turn off to the OTL proper. This provide quite a struggle as the track was unmarked, very narrow and very sandy and constantly changed direction, turning back on itself. Needless to say 15 minutes later I arrived back on the Bypass road around 50 metres further south than I had started. I tried a second time and this time came to a T-intersection with no markings - I headed right and after 1km felt I was not going the right way, I turned around to meet a 4WD who had been following me and insisted I had taken the right path. I convinced them not and we backtracked until we met another 4WD who told us that yes, we were now heading the right way.

After a couple of short (but deep) water crossings I finally reached the OTL proper, had a few more water crossings and shortly thereafter Elliot Falls.

Riding in the sandy conditions was quite exhausting and I knew I did not have a lot of energy in the event I got into trouble on the water crosings so I walked each first. The real challenge was the rough and rocky base - which meant large potholes - which I wanted to avoid. Having walked each it was obvious that unless I got it right I could potentially drown B1 again so I made sure there was another vehicle (or vehicles) around before entering the water. At the first, there were a group of around 20 DRZ400s heading north and they had a great time watching B1 struggle across whilst they zipped around me like a swarm of flies.

Once back on the southern leg of the OTL the track became increasingly sandy and there were long sections were I struggled to maintain speed (in order not to get bogged) but with minimal steering control. I eneded up laying B1 down half a dozen times before reaching the last crossing for the day at Cockatoo Creek around 5pm. Fortunately there is a newly erected huge picnic shelter there and I simply lay my sleeping bag on top of one of the picnic tables for a good nights sleep without fear of rain or predators.

Day 11 – 24 July, Cockatoo Creek to Bramwell Junction
This morning started with the challenge of crossing Cockatoo itself. Later the previous day a couple of hire 4WDs had arrived and they also planned to cross this morning. Cockatoo is quite a wide crossing with a fast flow of water. Walking the creek convinced me it was going to be both tricky and quite deep so I elected to fit my snorkel just in case (this was the first and only time I bothered with the snorkel).

With a couple of able bodied 4WDers on standby I slowly made my way across, keeping the revs high so as not to let water flow back into the exhaust (which was well and truly underwater).

Once crossed I then had to cross lots more narrow sandy sections before reaching Gunbarrel, the next crossing. Gunbarrel was a lot of fun - the real challenge is the entry and exit for 4WDs, but is not too bad for bikes. A group of 4WDers - who I had met travelling north - were camped there, and after the crossing we travelled north together, meeting up again at each of the water crossings.

The last, and trickiest, crossing was Palm Creek. The exit was very steep and ther was a lot of mud down the bottom so it was difficult to maintain traction for a run up. The 4WDs also struggled because of the lack of front clearance and they ended up being slowly winched up first.

Finally it was time for B1 and I had a group of burly 4WDers pushing and shoving to get me to the top. With a big cheer, it was time to push on the final 5km to Bramwell Station and the end of the OTL proper. I spent that night camped next to a 5m tall termite mound - one of the symbols of the cape.

Day 12 – 25 July, Bramwell Junction to Musgrave Station
Leaving Bramwell I said goodbye to my 4WD friends and headed south. My fist stop was Archer River where I hoed into one of their famous "Archer Burgers" - definitely a great feed! With my ankle aching more and more, and continuing to swell, I felt there was a good chance this was something more serious than just a sprain, so I also stopped in at the hospital in Coen, only to be told the doctor would not be visiting for another 2 days. I had no choice but to continue south and ending up setting up my tent at Musgrave Station where I bumped into the Peugeot team again.

Day 13 – 26 July, Musgrave Station to Cairns
This was going to be my last day on dirt roads and I was keen to get going and cover the final stretch to Laura.

Along the way I stopped for fuel and spent some time chatting with the local pet emu - as always, they are extremely curious creatures. Apparently it just walked into the station one day and decided to make it it's home - too many handouts from travellers I think!

After Laura the road construction was underway and I had intermittent sections of bitumen and dirt to ride on. The road finally turned completely to bitumen just north of Lakeland (the turnoff to Cooktown) and from there south it was a nice sweeping bike's road for much of the way. I continued south along the Atherton tableland to Mareeba and from there headed east to Kuranda and back down the mountain to Cairns, and then headed straight to Cairns Base Hospital.

The hospital provides exceleltn service and within 10 minutes of entering the emergency department I had had my ankle x-rayed and confirmed I had broken my ankle. The doctors wanted to put me in a cast but I was quite forthright in telling them I planned to ride back to Melbourne so they reluctantly strapped my ankle in compression bandages (to immobilise the break) and sent me packing together with a referral to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne.

I headed back to my friendly backpackers ready for a night of rest and relaxation now that I knew the hard part of the journey was behind me.

Days 14 – 21, Cairns to Melbourne
Today I left Cairns along the coast road slowly meandering my way south in order to meet up with Kimie on the following Saturday afternoon.

This is only the second time I had ridden down the Queensland coast road to Brisbane, the last time was in 1982 piloting a Kawasaki GPZ1100.

As previously, there was a lot of road work in the aftermath of the recent cyclones and it was slow going as the road was reduced to one way traffic. Highlights included a detour to Mission Beach, the giant gumboot in Tully, a very pleasant stay at a downtown backpackers in Townsville (the first time I have really ventured downtown as previously I had used Townsville as purely a base for departure to Magnetic Island), backpackers in Rockhampton and Hervey Bay (alas I did not have time to visit Fraser Island but did go as far as the ferry terminal).

The final run down through the Sunshine Coast hinterland and on to the gold Coast was all fast freeway and a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

After finding a hotel for the night in Tweed Heads I was reunited with Kimie at Coolangatta airport and we had an early get away to Byron Bay for lunch (I figured that I may as well try and cover two of Australia's extremities in this journey) before arriving in Coffs Harbour to enjoy Ian and Jane's hospitality at their new farm and country residence in Upper Karangi.

Whilst in Karangi we made many new friends including a pair of youngsters and a fair few animals (Kimie sends her regards to cow 2718), and have to admit the possibility of an early retirement in that part of the world could be quite attractive.

Given we were now pressed for time I decided to head straight back down the Pacific Highway as we knew we would be on the road after dark and I didn't want to risk sharing the same road space with other nocturnal creatures. This was just as well, as after a pleasant lunch by the beach in Sawtell, the warm afternon sun and gentle rocking of the Burgie Kimie was once again fast asleep in the pillion position after only 15 minutes in the saddle.

We stopped the night in the F1 Motel in Gosford and then spent the following morning in Sydney visiting our old residence adjacent to the Lane Cove river park, before hitting the Hume and plain sailing back down the freeway arriving home early evening, tired and weary (well me maybe, but Kimie slept at least half the distance!) but suffused with the warm inner glow of achievement one experiences after another long ride.

29 June, 2011

Why a Burgman of all bikes?

Whenever I meet fellow riders in my travels a lot of them ask me why I ride a Burgman and not a bike that is more off-road oriented. Well the reality is that all bikes are a compromise, but as  75-90% of my riding on any particular trip is done on the road, I want a compromise bike that is going to work for me in the majority of riding conditions.

So in summary, this is why the Burgman is the right bike for me

I like the fact that it has a nice long, wide and comfortable seat and I don’t have to compromise with a narrow one
• I like the fact that it offers multiple foot positions so I can shift my body weight to maintain comfort during long days in the saddle
• I like the fact that it is low to the ground and I can put my feet down to help when the track gets tricky
• I like the fact that it has a large fairing and windscreen to keep the wind off my body – much less tiring and much warmer
• I like the fact that the motor is covered and I am insulated from the noise and the heat
• I like the fact that the motor and CoG is down low which makes the bike easier to transition in turns and more stable in rough road conditions
• I like the fact that the motor is twin cylinder and doesn’t vibrate, so I can enjoy those high speed long distance highway stretches without exhaustion and discomfort
• I like the fact that it has an automatic clutch so that in sand/mud conditions I can focus on steering without worrying about stalling and/or being in the right gear
• I like the fact that I can store most of my luggage (55 litres) under the seat – nice and low, secure, invisible and waterproof
• I like the fact that it can carry a pillion with ease and comfort without stealing any of the rider's seat space
• I like the fact that it has high and wide bars that provide good leverage in tricky conditions
• I like the fact that it is economical and only uses 20km/l regardless of the road conditions
• I like the fact that my rear tyres last for 25,000km, and not 2-3,000km like dirt tyres
• I like the fact that it has plenty of power and is comfortable cruising at 130kmh hour after hour
• I like the fact that it has alloy wheels and not spokes - I never have tio replace broken spokes, and I can run tubeless tyres which are more reliable and easier to repair if I do get a flat

Oh, it seems I'm not the only one who likes Burgmen - I had a visitor last weekend who decided the Burgie's windscreen made a great home.

However, there is a flip side and some pretty big weaknesses I have to live with

• I don’t like those small wheels, because they don’t steer as well in sand and loose gravel as large wheels and I can’t find off-road tyres in a size that fits
• I don’t like the limited suspension travel and ground clearance on rough roads
• I don’t like to have to worry about getting water in my CVT during river crossings.

All in all though, at this stage in my riding the Burgman is definitely what works best for me.

28 June, 2011

Oodnadatta – Easter April 2011.

After successfully completing the Birdsville track last year the next central Australian adventure for me was the Oodnadatta track which runs from Marree (which is the end of the Birdsville track) to Marla on the Stuart Highway (which is the main road north to Alice Springs and Darwin). However, my plan was only ride North as far as Oodnadatta then head South West through the Painted Desert to Coober Pedy.

The first day’s riding was 1,200kms direct to Orroroo along the Calder Highway to Mildura. I have travelled this route ½ a dozen times now and it is one of my favourites, especially travelling through Wycheproof with its railway line that runs down the middle of the main street.

Arriving at Orroroo I was surprised to find the camping ground full and ended up having to spend a surprisingly chilly night camped in the Pekina valley alongside the Big Gum Tree.

Heading off early next morning I soon reached Hawker and then to Parachilna where I bumped into a group of 10 or so Ulysses riders on HDs who were heading north till the bitumen ended at Lyndhurst. I dropped into the Lyndhurst service station hopping to say hello to the owner, who had helped me with my missing transmission oil plug 6 months earlier, but he was not around.

It was then a quick sprint on the bitumen and dirt to Marree before hitting full dirt for official start to the Oodnadatta track and the ride past Lake Eyre to William Creek.

Along the track there is some interesting “heavy duty” artwork which is well worth spending time close up and recording.

At one point the road crosses Lake Eyre via a causeway and I was stunned to see hundreds of seagulls diving to feast on the millions of small fish trapped by the receding waters. The water was so thick with fish there was literally more fish than water between each.

Around 100kms south of William Creek I stopped to camp for the night at Coward Springs – the site of an old rail stop on the Ghan line – and enjoyed the hospitality of Doug and Sue who shared their home cooked pot roast whilst also sharing stories of the road.

Next morning it was time to pack and hit the road to William Creek, but not before savouring the delights of the wood fired hot showers in the campground. The ride to William Creek was quick and easy with a couple of short creek crossings of no real challenge.

There were many 4WDs on this stretch of road as people were using the easter break as an opportunity to take a flight from William Creek over Lake Eyre. I was tempted, but decided the $300 for a 45 minute flight could be better spent and spent the day walking and exploring in and around South Australia’s smallest (pop 6) and most remote town instead. It has some very interesting history espec. given its proximity to Woomera, and the rocket and A-bomb testing which took place there in the 1950s and 60s.

The following day I had roughly another 200kms of gravel track to Oodnadatta. This section fo road was much rougher with many creek crossings although most of them were dry. A particular highlight was inspecting the remains of the Algebuckina railway bridge that are over half-a-kilometre long where it crosses the Neale River –it was huge undertaking when it was built at the end of the 19th century. For the Burgie and we had to ride across the causeway that crosses the Neale River – fortunately it was only a couple of centimetres deep it but it was covered in green slime and quite slippery.

From Algebuckina it was a relatively quick 60km ride to Oodnadatta and I was quite excited to make it to the town which I had passed through 31 years earlier when taking the Ghan back from Alice Springs with my then bike (Ducati 860GT) on board the train as the Stuart Highway had been closed due to flooding.

Arriving at the pink roadhouse I immediately rode around the back to check out the camping ground. As I entered the camping ground it looked deserted but lo and behold parked far over on the left outside a donga were two adventure bikes (owned by Frank and Frank, two QANTAS stewards). On spotting the bikes I did a quick left turn and hit the throttle not realising that I had just entered a sand hole (yep in the middle of the campground) and down went B1, much to my embarrassment. My only fall of the whole ride and it had to be right in front of fellow riders!

The two Franks (no, not their real names) had been on a tour of Australia for 6 weeks and were now heading back home to Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Frank 2, a relatively recent rider was on a KTM 950 whilst Frank 1 who was more experienced, was riding a BMW GS1150. However, neither one of them was enjoying the loose gravel roads, and they were keen to get back on the bitumen again south of Marree.

After a fun evening we all headed off early the next morning with the Franks going back the way I had come to William Creek, and I heading south west to the painted desert. At the roadhouse I asked the hired help (German backpackers) who had been out to the desert two days earlier what the road out to the Painted Desert would be like – their response “went out ther 2 days ago and it was a great road”. Cheered by this I let down my guard..

The route initially followed the road to Coober Pedy and was good riding, until the turnoff to the west at which point it became a bit trickier. Even trickier again, when the track builders decided it was economic to build it through a dry creek bed, but which was now a sea of loose sand/silt that had been swept by recent floods. The first hundred metres was fine and I kept B1 moving at around 30kmh without needing to put a foot down, I then rode through a shallow pool and the sand got deeper and looser such that I had to paddle initially, then climb off and push. After another hundred metres or so I realised it was going to be a struggle continuing so I turned off the motor and decided to walk the creek bed to see how far I had to go.

1,000 paces later and the track moved out of the creek on to a solid footing, by the time I’d walked back to the bike I was exhausted so I plonked my kit down under a tree and figured I’d wait for the next passing vehicle. An hour later I heard the distinct drone of a Suzuki DR650 coming my way and walked across to greet him as he paddled his way through the deep sand before coming to a halt. Sorry, I forgot your name mate, but I do remember you were from Canberra and I do appreciate your push to get me started and encouragement to walk the bikes (running alongside with the motor running) through together. After 200 metres or so Mr Friendly DR Rider figured the surface was getting a little better and he would try to ride it out so I did the same, and lo and behold, apart from a bit of paddling B1 managed to maintain sufficient momentum to pop out the other end.

It was then a quick ride to the painted desert itself and then a couple of more trips through similar creek beds to the turnoff to Arckaringa homestead and back to the main track to Coober Pedy and the a fast 110kmh run down the good gravel road to Coober Pedy itself.

On arrival I decided I wanted to enjoy the unique experience of underground camping (in an old opal mine) and headed south 4km out of town to the REBA campground.

The following day was spent exploring, relaxing and having my spare rear tyre fitted as the old one now had its tyre cords showing in parts and had lots of deep cuts from the sharp gibber rocks on the Oodnadatta track. I was very impressed with the service at the tyre shop – run by an old German immigrant who ran a great little workshop.

The ride down the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta was straightforward and I checked in to one of the Flinders Hotel backpacker rooms in the late afternoon – great value at $25 per night for a room of my own and a roof over for my head for the first and only time this trip – well apart from the mine roof in the underground camping!

The next day was going to be my last night on the road and I had always wanted to explore the upper reaches of the Murray in South Australia. I crossed Murray for the first time that day at Morgan and then crossed it half a dozen more times on ferries as I rode along the northern and southern banks, eventually stopping for the evening in an idyllic setting near Waikerie where I pitched my tent on the river bank.

The next day was spent meandering further along the river to Renmark then a quick scoot across to Mildura and straight down the Calder back to Melbourne in time for a late dinner.

27 June, 2011

The VJMC Rally Warrilla March 2011

In August last year I had the opportunity to acquire a second mid-eighties Kawasaki Voyager 1300 6 cylinder full dresser (V2) in Tamworth NSW. During February I joined the VJMC I transferred V2 across to Victorian historic registration. The new club registration rules introduced on the 1st of February allow one to ride a 2year old (or older) vehicle for up to 90 days per year wherever one chooses, and without restriction.

The VJMC – full name Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club – holds a get together/rally each year and this year the event was held at Warrilla NSW, just south of Wollongong. Due to business pressures I had limited time available so the ride up was straightforward up the Hume then turning off at Mossvale to the coast via the Macquarie Pass.

After two very interesting days of drooling over some beautiful examples of Japanese classics and chatting their owners it was time to head home on the Sunday.

Now I am the first to admit that I will always take the hard way over the easy way when given the option, and I had always wanted to ride through Wee Jasper so it was home via Canberra for me.

Wee Jasper is at the bottom of a valley midway between Yass and Tumut where it crosses the Murrumbidgee river. The road in is good quality bitumen with broad sweepers over rolling hills until it tightens up as it descends into the river valley. Once it crosses the river, however, the road turns into a 4wd goat track until it rises out of the valley where there is another 60km of gravel until Tumut.  

The road out of Wee Jasper
Usually I enjoy these sort of roads except that this time I was riding V2 , which at a portly 430kg unladen is the heaviest bike to ever come out of Japan. Surprisingly V2 handled the dirt with aplomb and gave me very little trouble on roads and conditions which it was never intended for.
After arrival at Tumut it was back to the Hume where V2 was back in her element and purred her way along the blacktop home again..

Riding in Langkawi Malaysia - December 2010

Well it’s really time I brought this blog up to date so that means going back 6 months

After my ride along the Birdsville track I had the opportunity to visit Malaysia for business and chose to take an extra week visiting Langkawi – a small island on the north east coast of the Malay peninsula and straddling the Thai border.

Classic old British bike in our hotel reception area.
Langkawi is a great place to ride with scooters and bikes available for rent for $4-5 per day. Kimie and I rented a small 110cc Karisma for 3 days and crisscrossed the island in every direction.

Kimie in the rider's seat.
It was very pleasant taking it slowly, riding in the tropical heat amongst the luscious vegetation and local fauna.We did manage to get caught in a tropical thunderstorm though - had to seek shelter under the nearest roof and spent almost 2 hours waiting for the sheets of water to ease off - now you know why everything is so verdant!

Friendly local fauna

Beautifully green rice paddies

Water Buffalo